ppi.006-Carolyn Chute & the 2nd Maine Militia


Richard Moore

           ppi.006-Carolyn Chute & the 2nd Maine Militia
                               - - -

              "Carolyn Chute & the 2nd Maine Militia"

         retrieved by Carolyn Ballard from unknown web site

                               - - -
                Republication permission granted for
                 non-commercial and small-press use,
     with all sig & header info incorporated (in some form), please.
                               - - -
    a public service of CADRE (Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance)
                               - - -

Publisher's note:

Carolyn Chute is an enthusiastic supporter of the Democratic Renaissance
initiative, and we have exchanged extensive correspondence.  She'll be
participating in Cadre's workshop in Candada and will be helping us line up
interviews with activists in the New England area during our filming tour.

This is the first I've seen about her in electronic form, and it is with
admiration that I introduce you to this solid revolutionary, who you may
already be familiar with from her popular fiction works.  When I find out
who wrote the piece below I'll publish a credit.


From: Carolyn Ballard <•••@••.•••>
To: "Richard Moore (E-mail)" <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Carolyn Chute - Salon article - seen it?
Date: Tue, 5 May 1998

<Picture: [Carolyn Chute's Wicked Good Militia]>
Photographs by W. Garschagen

The author of "The Beans of Egypt, Maine" is leading
an army of grave, silent woodsmen in a backwoods
campaign against corporate greed


Well, at least one debate is finally settled: Carolyn Chute -- novelist,
wry Earth Mother, accidental militia leader -- has this election year's
fiercest and funniest stump speech.

Pat Buchanan may want a "lock and load" foreign policy; Chute invites her
admirers to bring their guns back to her place to "plunk away at dog food
cans" and "smell the stink of sulfur." Lamar Alexander may tinkle away
half-heartedly on upright pianos; Chute leads her gathered through a
vigorously subversive rendition of Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land"
that includes stanzas such as "This land is Wal-Mart's! ... This land is
Exxon's!" and that ruefully concludes: "This land weren't made for you and
me." Steve Forbes may peddle his flat tax; Chute is for flattening greedy
corporations, and she draws whoops and cheers with homely, old-fashioned
similes. "A corporation is like a bad chair," she proclaims to the 100 or
so people who have packed a remote former schoolhouse in this rural Maine
town to hear her. "You sit on it, and if it pokes you in the ass, you throw
it away."

Welcome to the spirited second meeting of Chute's 2nd Maine Militia, a
loosely-organized and decidedly non-partisan group of pro-gun, anti-big
business citizens that just may give American politics a much-needed poke
in the ass.

Carolyn Chute, at age 49, isn't running for anything, nor is her "Wicked
Good Militia," as she likes to call it, backing any candidates. But this
shy, genial woman, dressed as usual in a frumpy skirt, mud boots and
bandana, seems committed to reminding voters that the real divide in
American politics isn't Left vs. Right -- it's Up vs. Down. Chute likens
the grim American economic climate to a "burning house," and worries that
too many people have quit trying to run rescue missions, instead standing
off to the side talking about tangential issues: "gay rights, guns, welfare
mums, and drugs." Her brand of optimistic, let's-band-together economic
populism neatly skirts Buchanan's bigotry and exploitative fear, and takes
direct aim at the kind of class issues that make most politicians flee in
blind panic.

Chute's ideas are clearly resonating in ingrown, isolated rural Maine,
where unemployment is high, where most have been left behind by the tech
revolution, and where logging companies, Chute says, "are threatening to
turn the land into a moonscape." When you mix in Chute's innate sense of
theater -- meetings begin with a bang on a tin trash can lid, the hall is
strewn with placards and signs listing the sins of various CEOs, and her
stern, bearded, rifle-bearing husband Michael greets visitors at the door
wearing a tricornered patriot's hat -- the militia's hardscrabble appeal is
just about undeniable.

Those who've come to hear her, on this recent Sunday, run the ideological
gamut from bespectacled former union organizers to stooped, demure local
janitors. But as she speaks, Chute pointedly keeps one eye on a gaggle of
big, beefy, unkempt men loitering by the door -- men who seem to have
sprung up directly from her now-classic first novel, a vivid chronicle of
rural poverty titled "The Beans of Egypt, Maine." ("If it runs, a Bean will
shoot it," Chute wrote of these brawling backwoods men. "If it falls, a
Bean will eat it.")

"I know some of you people here are shy," she says, glancing over at the
would-be Beans. They're what Chute likes to think of as her core
constituency -- round, spikily-bearded men who've emerged from the
surrounding woods and trailer parks, dressed in so many grimy layers of
clothing that they seem almost like black denim artichokes. "We want shy
people in this militia. We want you to show up when we confront
politicians, and to bring your grave silence along with you. Grave silence
is far more powerful than the same old voices yapping away."

The men nod and stare back at her, suddenly graver and silenter than ever.

Scaring Off Yuppies
Carolyn Chute clearly doesn't mind, as militia member and Maine journalist
Catherine Sengel puts it, "scaring off yuppies." In fact, Sengel feels that
Chute's focus on guns serves a pair of distinct purposes -- beyond the fact
that Chute's husband loves backyard target practice. "It keeps away the
same old tired bohemian intelligentsia types," she says. "And it attracts
the Mainers she really wants. Up here, the disenfranchised are generally
the people with guns."

Chute puts it another way. "It's a constitutional and a cultural issue,"
she says, in an interview shortly before the meeting. "People around here
have guns, both for hunting and to protect themselves. And frankly, we
don't want the government to have guns and not us. We don't want the
government to have anything we don't have, because government isn't We The
People anymore. And guns won't go away, anymore than abortion ever has, or

Coming from anyone else -- Pat Buchanan, let's say -- such a pro-buckshot
posture would seem coolly cynical. But little about Chute or her life seems
in any way calculated; she has lived the kind of grinding poverty she
writes about in her three earthy and plainspoken novels, "The Beans of
Egypt, Maine" (1985), "Letourneau's Used Auto Parts" (1988) and "Merry Men"

A high school dropout at age 16, Chute married almost immediately and gave
birth to her first child, a daughter. The marriage ended in divorce; Chute
survived with her daughter by working a long series of dead-end jobs --
including plucking chickens, driving a school bus, and working on a potato
farm, rarely making more than $2,000 a year. It was only after marrying her
current husband, an illiterate jack-of-all-trades named Michael Chute, in
1978, that she completed high school at night and began taking classes at
the University of Maine. She began writing stories while attending a
writing workshop there, and eventually had fiction published in magazines
like "Grand Street" and "Ploughshares" before beginning work on "The Beans
of Egypt, Maine." "This book was involuntarily researched," she said in an
interview at the time. "I have lived poverty. I didn't choose it. No one
would choose humiliation, pain, and rage."

Over the years, Chute has poured that humiliation, pain and rage into her
fiction. But she has retained a peppery political streak, dashing off
heated Op-Ed pieces to New England newspapers, and (famously) teaching one
of her dogs to growl at the mention of the name Reagan.

These days, she says, she's rather be working on her fourth novel, which
she has partially completed, than talking politics. But for now, the
militia is taking nearly all of her time. "I've spent $1,000 on all this
photocopying and whatnot, and I'm broke," she says. "But it's worth it.
There is no candidate out there who is addressing these issues, and who
isn't taking corporate gifts, who isn't owned," she says. "Voting isn't
enough anymore. We can only vote for the clowns that are put up there. I
don't expect anything to change soon -- we're talking about the kind of
revolution that will take place over decades, not in the next election."

It doesn't help the militia speed things up, some members grumble, that
Chute doesn't own a telephone, and that people are forced to write or drive
out to her house to contact her. "Not having a phone is her defense
mechanism," Sengel says. "She's too kind. If she has a phone, she'll talk
for an hour to whomever calls."

The Big Green Paper Nipple
Thus far, the 2nd Maine Militia's official membership totals only a few
dozen, and it isn't clear, beyond a few scheduled rallies and meetings,
where exactly its energies will be directed.

Watching Chute in action, however, you quickly come to understand why she
has touched a chord in so many Mainers, including a 61-year-old local
boiler operator named Carl Adams from nearby Buxton. "It's good to see
people finally getting together and standing up for something," Adams says.
"It's time to talk about some new, different ideas. This woman has the kind
of spirit we really need."

Watching from the back row with Adams, Chute's message comes off as a funky
mixture of homespun humor and more serious economic analysis. One minute
she plays to the crowd, suggesting that everyone pry themselves off the
"big green paper nipple" and drawing laughs with riffs on how products are
getting progressively worse. "Everything's getting cheesier," she says,
laughing. "I just bought a new snow shovel, and it broke! I admit it was a
heavy snow day, but what's going on? It was probably made in Hawaii." In
the next, however, she's quoting economist Milton Friedman ("A corporation
cannot be ethical; its only responsibility is to turn a profit") and
bashing Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Chute passes around a copy of a New York Times Op-Ed piece by Reich, in
which he advocates giving corporations incentives to be socially
responsible. Chute has penciled the word "Yikes" in the margins. "These
corporations don't need incentives," she says. "What we need to do is throw
their corporate charters in the trash. People will get the idea, and you
know the shareholders will."

Chute's politics have attracted the attention of -- and have been
influenced by -- the ideas of the well-known Maine union organizer Peter
Kellman, who heads the Maine Chapter of the Program on Corporations, Law
and Democracy, as well as the group's national leader, Rich Grossman. All
three carry a fervent populist vision, and are fond of quoting Thomas Paine
citizen's lament: "Beneath the shade of our own vines we are attacked; in
our own house, and on our own lands, is the violence committed against us."

In the end, however, it's clear that Chute idiosyncratic views are no one's
but her own. The 2nd Maine Militia's "first document" lists some of her
bedrock objectives, including: extending the right of free speech and
assembly to work sites and shopping malls; banning lobbyists from the
political process; banning paid political ads in favor of requiring the
electronic media to devote air time to candidates; limiting campaign
contributions to $100 per citizen; and limiting the number of newspapers or
magazines that can be owned by any single person or corporation to one.

The militia document also criticizes at length the Supreme Court's ruling,
in the 1886 Santa Clara case, that corporations could be granted various
rights that citizens have, including free speech protections. Corporations
"now dominate the public and private life of our society," the fiery
document reads, "defining the economic, cultural and political agenda for
humans and all other living things."

Chute's distinct brand of non-partisan populism fits in well with New
England's persistent independent streak. Maine has the country's only
independent governor in Angus King, and nearby Vermont has the country's
only independent/socialist congressman in maverick Bernie Sanders. Like
Sanders, Chute has an earthy appeal -- it's populism with a very human

A Lonely, Scary Road
The militia meeting is winding down, and outside the day has turned
blustery, and smoky clouds alternate with moments of what Chute has
described, in "The Beans of Egypt, Maine," as "birdless airplaneless
sunless cloudless leafless sky ... warm steaming blue."

Inside, Chute is steaming as well. "Do you ever feel amazed when people
tell you it's not as bad here as in other countries?" she asks, pulling
back a strand of her wispy brown hair from her eyes. "You want to ask:
Where have they been? Certainly not in Maine."

But her message is, as always, ultimately consoling. "We need to stay
together, to spread the truth like religion," she says. "It's a lonely,
scary road, and we've got to walk it together."

Over by the door, the largest of the grave, silent woodsmen looks up and
says, quietly, "Amen."


                  "Seeking an Effective Democratic
                      Response to Globalization
                        and Corporate Power"
           an international workshop for activist leaders
        June 25 <incl> July 2 - 1998 - Nova Scotia - Canada
                  Restore democratic sovereignty
                  Create a sane and livable world
             Bring corporate globalization under control.
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